Plays of the NBA Playoffs, Vol. 1 (Nos. 25-13)
Also see: Plays of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, Vol. 2 (12-1)
We think the NBA Playoffs are the greatest sporting event on Earth. It's the best basketball in the world, there's the drama surrounding storylines for teams and players which develop not only over the course of a series but over multiple years, and not least, there is the sheer volume of spectacular plays which display why NBA players are the world's greatest athletes.
The last point is exactly what we are here to display today, a look back at our favorite plays from the 2009 NBA Playoffs. Our Top "25" actually contains about 40 plays total, we couldn't help ourselves. The countdown runs from 25-13 today, and we'll be back for the Top 12 tomorrow.
We don't claim these are the "best", they're just our favorites. We'll note that we dig little guys who dunk on big guys, big guys who display some skills, high degree-of-difficulty assists and game-changing/deciding plays. Here we go:
25. Gortat, Boozer Drop the Lefty Hammers
Let's get things going with Marcin Gortat dropping a full mid-level exception Polish Hammer on the head of Sammy Dalembert, in his coming out party in Game 6 vs. Philly, with Dwight Howard suspended.
For good measure, here's Carlos Boozer, in perhaps his last great play as a Jazzman, wheeling around Pau Gasol for a strong lefty dunk to give Utah the lead in the final minute of its only playoff win, vs. L.A. in Game 3.
24. Brad Miller Jai Alais the Assist
Perhaps inspired by the quality work of the Dos Equis 'Most Interesting Man in the World' in the fronton, Brad Miller turns his arm into a xistera to deliver the slingshot assist to Joakim Noah in Game 5 of the epic Celtics-Bulls series. Have to see this one in slow motion to fully appreciate it.
23. Superman Brings Down the Shot Clock
It's a rule of Plays of the Playoffs: if you bring down the shot clock with a dunk, as Dwight Howard did vs. the Cavs in Game 1, you make the list.
One more from D-12, for whom it was actually surprisingly tough to find list-worthy plays. For a slam-dunk champion, Howard's in-game dunks have a surprising lack of style. He tends to go up incredibly high and bring it down incredibly hard, over and over again. It's awe-inspiring and thoroughly impressive, for sure, but it just doesn't quite capture our imagination. Still, out of respect for his postseason of dominance, here's a Howard smash on the head of Theo Ratliff in Game 3 vs. Philly.
22. Kobe Blocks Yao
With the Lakers-Rockets series tied 1-1, L.A. came out of the locker room at halftime of Game 3 clinging to a two-point lead on the road. They broke the game open with a 24-14 edge in the third that was sparked in part by two Kobe Bryant blocked shots against Yao Ming. Here is the better of the two, gorgeously timed by Bryant against a man a foot taller.
21. Shannon Brown Tattoos The Birdman
Game 5 of the Lakers-Nuggets was among the most fertile ground for spectacular plays in this year's playoffs - this is the first of several from that pivotal game to make the cut. This one was yet another key play in the Lakers season. With the series tied at 2-2 and the Lakers down 5 late in the third, Shannon Brown finishes the fast break by pounding one on Chris Andersen. Don't sleep on Pau Gasol's role in this one - he makes the steal, leads the break, and finishes with the assist. Dude's ability to make plays on the break at 7-0 is perhaps the most remarkable aspect of his richly skilled game.
20. Billups With the Self-Assist Off Kobe's Back
In Tom Friend's outstanding E-Ticket profile of Chauncey Billups, he relayed a story about how "Smooth" Chauncey inbounded an assist to himself off an opponent's back in the 1994 Colorado state championship game. Well, 15 years later, at the end of the first half of Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, Billups did it again, this time off of Kobe Bryant. Didn't finish with a dunk this time, not sure if he apologized to Grandma.
19. LBJ Sampler Platter
One of the challenges of this list was trying to narrow down the most spectacular plays of LeBron's playoffs - dude could probably have a whole Top 25 to himself. Here, we give it a try with a sampling of four dunks. Oh, there's more to come.
Game 3 vs. ORL: LeBron goes up high for the alley-oop from Mo.
Game 1 vs. ORL: LeBron goes up even higher to finish the fast break with authority.
Game 2 vs. ATL: LeBron down the lane for the violent reverse in the halfcourt O. Goodness. Hubie with the understatement of the list: "Now that was an explosion off the crossover."
Game 4 vs. DET: Windmill! LeBron turns out the lights at the Palace.
18. D-Wade Zigs, Zags and Zazas
After his outstanding 2008-09 season, Dwyane Wade deserved a spot on the list, and he earned it in Game 6 vs. ATL, weaving down the lane and dropping it on Zaza Pachulia's head while being fouled.
17. Kobe Reaches Back for the Alley-Oop
Another key play from Game 5 of the Lakers-Nuggets series. Early in the second half, Kobe calls on some old-school hops to get up and gather in the alley-oop from Derek Fisher and ignite the Staples Center crowd.
16. Rondo Dunks on Orlando, Two Times
Like we said at the top, we love little men who challenge big guys at the rim. Rajon Rondo did so twice in the Orlando series, with this dunk in Game 2 ("HERE'S RONDO WITH THE STUFF!" - man, we love Marv.)...
...and then again as one of the lone Boston bright spots in Game 7, kinda sorta vs. Superman.
15. Trevor Ariza Makes Him Some Money
Free-agent Trevor Ariza was of course one of the breakout players of this year's playoffs, and he turned in one of the prettiest dunks of the postseason, driving, twisting and reaching for the goal against Denver in Game 2.
As a bonus, we're also giving you Ariza's elegant reverse jam over Boozer to finish the break in Game 1 vs. the Jazz.
14. Derrick Rose Block Party
For a guy not known for his defense, Bulls rookie Derrick Rose turned in some of the most notable blocked shots of the playoffs. This was probably the best one, a perfectly-timed chasedown to thwart a Brian Scalabrine dunk in Game 7.
This was the most important one, the full extension against Rajon Rondo to secure Game 6 at the end of the third OT.
This one may have been our favorite, because it coupled an incredible save which ignited a Bulls fast break along with a denial of Paul Pierce. Couldn't find video, so we have to roll animated gif style:
13. C. Lee v. LeBron
Orlando rookie Courtney Lee proved many times that he was not intimidated by the big stage of the NBA Playoffs, perhaps most emphatically when he challenged LeBron James at the goal - here Lee dunks on LeBron in Game 1 (and we have the video to prove it!).
LeBron responded with a trademark chasedown against Lee in the break in Game 3.
Undaunted, Courtney learned his lesson and came back strong later in Game 3, slamming through the fast-break finish before LeBron can get there.
All right, there you have it, we're halfway done and hopefully Nike won't confiscate this post after the dunks in no. 13! See you tomorrow with the Top 12 (plus a few extras). What will be no. 1?
Also see: Plays of the 2009 NBA Playoffs, Vol. 2 (12-1)